Beating absenteeism

Helpingemployees to balance their work and home lives is one way to reduce staffabsence, writes Caroline HornAbsenteeismand poor time-keeping cost UK business nearly £12bn in 2002, with around£1.75bn of that due to staff ‘pulling sickies’. While figures from the CBI showthe number of lost working days (166 million) is down on previous years, risinglabour costs mean that businesses continue to pay heavily for absenteeism.Companieshave used a number of tools to help reduce absenteeism, from ‘back to work’interviews, to giving senior managers responsibility for absence management.While effective, these measures have not necessarily tackled the main causes ofabsenteeism, and a more sophisticated management approach could produce betterlong-term results.Investorsin People (IiP) has recently launched a Work-life Balance Model that could helpaddress some of the issues behind absenteeism, says chief executive RuthSpellman. “Management has to look after the workforce and ensure that itis productive. Addressing issues such as maternity leave and flexible workinghours and putting proper processes in place will help,” she says.Thefirst step towards creating a work-life balance is to canvas opinion amongstaff about what they would find useful, says Spellman. “Employees in acity-based company might want a more flexible start-time, while women withchildren might want a facility to leave early at the end of the day.”WellingboroughCouncil, a small district council, piloted the IiP’s Work-life Balance Model inFebruary to address the varied needs of its staff. After a process ofconsultation, it adopted a range of measures, including a ‘flexitime’ schemeand home-working. Mike Scott, head of HR at the council, says: “We havebenefited from higher staff retention and a more productive workforce.”Thenumber of employees taking sick leave and absenteeism generally have also beenreduced.Anumber of companies that have applied the IiP’s Work-life Balance Model arestarting to see benefits in these areas, but many are also reporting broaderbusiness benefits. Mark Holt-Rogers, product development director ofBusinesshealth Group – which provides employee health programmes – says itsmain aim is to match the needs of staff to the business. He says a moreflexible working environment will help morale, but should also make thebusiness more effective.Worcester-basedRabjohns Business & Tax Advisors, which provides advice to localbusinesses, established flexible working patterns in 2002, but used theWork-life Balance Model to evaluate the success of these. It found theworkforce was more prepared to be flexible, and that this resulted in a numberof business benefits. For example, one of its ‘front-of-house’ team was able toopen the office earlier, benefiting customers who could visit before theirbusiness day began.  “Havingflexible working hours and people working from home does bring benefits to theorganisation, but there needs to be very clear guidelines and mutualrespect,” says Jacqui Henderson, executive director of the Learning &Skills Council, London Central.Spellmanemphasises that any new system must be clearly communicated to employees.”Like every contract, you have to set it up properly with realisticexpectations,” she says.Jury’sInn, a 190-room hotel in Belfast, had approached work-life balance on an ad-hocbasis before introducing the Work-life Balance Model earlier this year. Now ithas a systematic approach to flexible working, including a new shift system. Thecompany is proactive in communicating with staff – letting them know what theyare entitled to and letting senior management know what should be possible.Withflexible shifts and improved communication, staff no longer need to resort toabsenteeism when they need time off, says Michelle Hagan, personnel andtraining manager. “We have boosted morale and improved retention,”she adds.Casestudy: Rebecca Massingberd, HR directorMassingberdGroup plc operates car showrooms that sell and repair Audi Volkswagens acrossthe UK.Employeesoften needed to work long hours to fit in with customer needs, and thisimpacted upon the punctuality of staff. While absenteeism was not a significantproblem, it did incur heavy costs; if a technician called in sick, hiscustomers for that day would have to be cancelled.HRdirector Rebecca Massingberd felt a formal structure was needed to helpemployees establish the right harmony between life at home and at work, and tohelp avoid the need for staff to work seven days a week during busy periods. Aflexible working system would also help make the company a local employer ofchoice.Aperiod of consultation established that workers wanted to have more time tospend with their families, although their needs varied – some wanted to startwork later to drop their children off at school in the mornings, while othersneeded to stay late to deal with customers. Newmeasures have now been introduced, including flexible working, job-sharing andattendance bonuses. Flexible hours mean staff can be flexible with time outsidetheir core hours, and can also accrue time off, while the attendance bonus hashelped the company reduce sporadic ‘sick leave’ days, says Massingberd. Staffare also more prepared to multi-skill to cover for other employees duringholidays.Thecompany is currently evaluating the impact that flexible working has had onother areas, such as retention and morale. Beating absenteeismOn 8 Jul 2003 in Personnel Today Related posts:No related photos. Comments are closed. Previous Article Next Article read more